The Man


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Bobby was a boyhood friend of Doak Walker at Highland Park High School in Dallas. They played together one season under Redford Hume and another season under Blair Cherry. Then they served together in the Maritime service during World War 2. The two maintained their friendship even through their college years when Doak chose SMU and Layne chose Texas. They played against each other twice in college, splitting the series. Bobby made the All American Team as a halfback in those years. Bobby excelled in baseball as well where he was unbeaten as a pitcher in 3 seasons, however bids from the New York Giants, Boston Red Sox, and the St Louis Cardinals could not sway Bobby from playing football. Bobby felt you had a chance to make good sooner by playing football. Somehow, bobby found time to get married to Carol Kreuger his sophomore year at Texas while playing two sports.

Bobby was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore of the rival All America Conference. The Steelers traded him to Chicago for rights to Ray Evans (Kansas). In Chicago Bobby played under coaching legend George Halas and was the third string quarterback behind Sid Luckman and Johnny Lujack. Halas traded Bobby to the New York Bulldogs for their #1 draft pick and $50,000 cash. The cash was to be paid in 4 installments. The team won only one game and lost eleven, but Bobby played well and developed quickly.


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In 1950 Bobby was traded to Lions who picked up the tab and made the final 3 payments to Halas (Halas would remark later that the Lions should have continued the yearly payments indefinitely to him in view of Laynes performance).

In his first year with the Lions, a feud erupted between Layne and the late Bo McMillin. McMillin wanted to call the plays from the bench all the time and Bobby refused to work that way. Although this protest threatened his career, Bobby stood strong and said he would quit before playing another season under him. The Detroit management bought out McMillins contract and hired Buddy Parker to coach the Lions. Parker felt that if a quarterback was properly prepared during the week before the game, it should be up to him to use the proper plays. Parker would send in a play only when someone upstairs detected a weakness in a particular defense.


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In 1952 Bobby led the Lions to their first NFL championship in 12 years. He would repeat this in 1953 for back to back championships, but fell a little short of a three-peat when the Lions lost to Cleveland in the 1954 NFL Championship game. In 1957 Layne was leading the lions toward another championship when fate stepped in. In a game late in the season he broke his leg in 3 places during a pileup. His replacement, Tobin Rote, finished the season and led the Lions to victory in the 1957 championship game.

The success of Tobin Rote inspired the Lions front office to platoon the two quarterbacks the next season. Each quarter would be started by a different quarterback. Bobby became very frustrated at this and believed the team should only have one leader. In an interview to Sport Magazine he was quoted as saying “The coaching staff was criticizing me openly and some of the Detroit writers were on my back. Everybody thought I was washed up”. Layne was considering retirement when he heard via a phone call from then coach George Wilson to report to Pittsburgh, he had been traded for Earl Morral and two future draft picks. Layne would remark later that he considered it “a pretty crude way to brush him off after all those years”. Layne was stunned and hurt and it is during this time he was alledged to have cursed the Lions for 50 years. He may or may not have said it but Bobby is quoted as saying “I’d like to win a championship for the Steelers and for myself to shove down Detroits throat” so we know the relationship was poor at the time. Bobby never won that championship but Detroit would be cursed for the next fifty years with inept play.


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Bobby Layne was one of the most popular Detroit Athletes of all time. Perhaps this was due to his off the field exploits as well as his on the field heroics. Legends abound about Bobby’s onfield competitiveness and no quit attitude, while tales of Bobby partying and free spirited activites endured him in the hearts of Detroit fans the same way Ruth and Mantle were idolized in NY. Legend has it that before one game, two linemen had to pick Bobby up by his legs and dunk him in a barrel of cold water to get him to wake up for a game. Bobby did not hide the fact that he liked to party and remarked that the way to die would be to run out of cash and air at the same time. Bobby was a true team leader on and off the field and many times would help other athletes on the team if they ran into financial difficulties. His drinking landed him in trouble at least once when he had to appear in court to fight a drunk driving ticket. He won the case then threw a party. Bobby was not the most gifted or talented person in the NFL at the time, his passes sometimes looked like wounded ducks on the field, but his drive, leadership, and clutch play (he is credited with creating the 2 minute offense) made him invincible. Bobby was one of the last players to play in the NFL without a face mask which gives you an idea just how rough and tough he could be.

Bobby Layne running over a defense
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Bobby Layne running over a defense

During his playing days Bobby made wise investments in oil field leases, had a partnership in a Fort Worth Auto Agency, and owned an apartment house in Lubbock Texas (a wedding gift from his father in law). He was financially secure throughout his Lions career and retirement years.

Upon his retirement in 1962 Bobby held almost every major completion record for quarterbacks at the time. He was rewarded in 1967 by being enshrined in the Football Hall of Fame! He was honored by being the only Lion quarterback in the Lions 60th season card set. Bobby died December 1st, 1986


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The Lions would continue down a path of using up their players and not rewarding loyalty. Players such as Alex Karras and Charlie Sanders also had unfortunate run ins with team management toward the end of their careers. Hall of Famer Charlie Sanders is quoted as saying “I don’t understand why the Lions are appealing my case. There is no question that the injury that cut down my career was sustained in a game for the Lions. They said so in a press release announcing my retirement”. The Lions response to Charlie was that they appeal all cases, no matter the circumstances. Charlie Sanders also said “I was really gung-ho for the team. But a vet took me aside one day and said, One day you’ll learn. This is a business. A cold business. If you’re of no use to them, you’re gone”. Who was this veteran, and who had said it to him? Is it still being said to young Lions to this day? Perhaps the curse of Bobby Layne is nothing more than the players from 1958 grumbling about the treatment the veterans get from the Lions, and this being passed down from generation to generation of Lion players. I cannot fully explain it, but I have no doubt it (the curse) exists since the proof is so overwhelming. I conclude this biography with a picture of a happy Bobby Layne, still partying, but in a Pittsburgh uniform, where whatever magic he had still seems to be working for his Steelers to this day.

Bobby Laynes Stats

1948 CHI 11 16 52 30.8 232 4.5 3 2 13 80 1
1949 NYY 12 155 299 51.8 1796 6.0 9 18 54 196 3
1950 DET 12 152 336 45.2 2323 6.9 16 18 56 250 4
1951 DET 12 152 332 45.8 2403 7.2 26 23 61 290 1
1952 DET 12 139 287 48.4 1999 7.0 19 20 94 411 1
1953 DET 12 125 273 45.8 2088 7.6 16 21 87 343 0
1954 DET 12 135 246 54.9 1818 7.4 14 12 30 119 2
1955 DET 12 143 270 53.0 1830 6.8 11 17 31 111 0
1956 DET 12 129 244 52.9 1909 7.8 9 17 46 169 5
1957 DET 11 87 179 48.6 1169 6.5 6 12 24 99 0
1958 DET 2 12 26 46.2 171 6.6 1 2 3 1 0
1958 PIT 10 133 268 49.6 2339 8.7 13 10 37 153 3
1959 PIT 12 142 297 47.8 1986 6.7 20 21 33 181 2
1960 PIT 12 103 209 49.3 1814 8.7 13 17 19 12 2
1961 PIT 8 75 149 50.3 1205 8.1 11 16 8 11 0
1962 PIT 13 116 233 49.8 1686 7.2 9 17 15 25 1
Totals 175 1814 3700 49.0 26768 7.2 196 243 611 2451 25